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Thank you Mr President.
Seventeen years ago today the United States were hit by the largest attack in their history. I believe that all of us remember perfectly well where we were each of us when we first heard that a plane hit the Twin Towers in New York. If you think of that day, if you think of that moment, you understand how close Europe and America have always been. Because it has been an attack not only on the United States, but on all of us. And this is why I want to start this debate on my side by expressing all our sympathy and friendship to the United States, all its institutions and all its citizens while we commemorate this terrible day that was a terrible day for the United States and that was a terrible day for Europe.
The world has changed in unexpected and unforeseeable ways since that 9/11, seventeen years ago. Today, all global powers are rethinking their place in the world. Later tonight, we will discuss our relations with China, but before that, I am glad for the opportunity to discuss Elmar Brok’s [Member of the European Parliament] excellent work on the United States.
The transatlantic relationship is evolving. The US helped us in Europe during the Second World War to defeat racism and fascism and helped us immediately after the Second World War to rebuild our continent. This is something that we European cannot, should not and, I think, will not forget – never.
Yet, after seventy years, the European Union has grown up. We are a global power and a global security provider. We have our own principles, our interests, and our unique European way to peace, security and development. I have no doubt that the European Union and the United States are and will remain natural partners, natural friends, in spite of disagreements we may have with the US administration.
As your report indicates perfectly well, we work very closely together with the US Administration on a wide range of issues. From the Western Balkans to North Korea, from Ukraine to Afghanistan – and the list could continue. Our cooperation is strong because we share the same goals and the same interests, I would say the same vision of the world.
We work together on a daily basis on counter-terrorism, and our cooperation within NATO is closer than ever. Since we signed the EU-NATO Joint Declaration two years ago, our personnel is working together on a daily basis on the broadest set of security issues, from cyber to maritime security. This is new and this goes beyond some of the rhetoric or the narrative or the symbolism we have been facing in these months. US and EU staff – including on the military level – are working today together as never before in the past.
I also see the opportunity to find new synergies on our energy policies, particularly after our recent Energy Council with the US in Brussels in July – in the very same days as the NATO Summit, by the way. Both Europe and the United States have a clear interest in diversifying our energy supplies – and this is just one of many issues where our interests converge.
I believe another such issue is trade, particularly in relations to China and WTO reform. Divisions on this file can only harm both US and European interests. In some cases, divisions on this file are harming our interests. But by working together, on the contrary, we can be much more effective in pushing for more just and fairer international trade.
Let me be very clear on this: We will always seek cooperation with the United States, on trade just like on all other files. At the same time, we have shown that we are ready to protect our interests when the US have chosen a different approach. And I think that the report highlights perfectly well this balance that we have. And I think that we are together as European Institutions on this.
We responded strongly to the introduction of US tariffs on steel and aluminium – that, you are right, are still in place - and we engaged with various levels of US government and Congress to avoid the unacceptable threat of US tariffs in other areas, particularly on cars.
President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Juncker’s visit to the White House last July managed to avert the risk of new tariffs on our car industry. [Jean-Claude] Juncker and President Trump agreed on the need to find a shared solution to preserve transatlantic trade, and since then contacts have continued at all levels – complicated work, but ongoing. As you know, an Executive Working Group is now discussing the details, with a clear political mandate, which is to agree on the way forward. The two Presidents’ meeting was a clear demonstration that there is always room for a win-win solution, even when confrontation seems inevitable. And this is a matter of political will. The political will on our side is to always seek cooperation and to defend our interests when we see that there is no other way to go.
Now, it is no secret that we have one main disagreement that concerns multilateralism and the very idea of a system for global governance. We Europeans continue to see multilateralism as the best way to prevent chaos, conflicts and confrontations in a multi-polar world. Our support to multilateralism – something we discuss by the way, very often in this hemicycle - is based on our values as the best alternative to a situation where “might makes right”. But we also have a strong interest in preserving multilateralism and in strengthening multilateralism – and that interest is the interest we have to prevent conflicts, to promote sustainable development, to promote human rights and to guarantee in this way our own security.
This is why we continue and we will continue to defend the nuclear deal with Iran, the Paris agreement on climate change, and to fund the essential work of all the UN agencies, including UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. More generally, we will stand by the fundamental belief that international rules should not be seen as a constraint for some, but rather as a guarantee for all. And we will continue to invest strongly in the UN system.
I see in my daily work that we are not alone in this task, we are not alone in having this objective – it is rather the opposite. From Canada to Australia, from South America to East Asia, from the African Union to ASEAN – there is a whole world calling for effective multilateralism and for partners to build it. And they are all looking at the European Union as the reliable and indispensable partner they need in this world of today. So we have a responsibility. Protecting and reforming multilateralism can only be a collective endeavour and this why we should invest more and more in this “alliance for effective multilateralism”, in this effort to build partnerships on global level to strengthen multilateralism.
But we should also explore, together with the United States, any possibility to address the short-comings of the current multilateral system and make our international institutions more effective and fit for purpose.
You – this Parliament – have an important role to play, I believe, when it comes to our relationship with the United States - I think the report highlights this well - through the work of the AFET, INTA, SEDE, LIBE and other committees; and of course though the Delegations for relations with the US and Canada. The European Parliament's Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue with the US provides a very important platform for exchange – and I have witnessed first-hand how crucial it is to engage with Congress and with different departments within the Administration. This is a vital work we need to do - and you need to do first and foremost - together.
Your report, Elmar [Brok, Member of the European Parliament], concludes that we need to invest even more into people-to-people contacts across the Atlantic, and I could not agree more. Some of you might know, I have benefited myself from an exchange programme with the US – and these kind of exchanges are the best possible investment in the future of the transatlantic partnership. Because the ties that we have between the Europe and the United States extend well beyond Washington DC and run deep into our societies. This is why I am so convinced that whatever policy disagreement we may have with the Administration, our friendship with the US is here to stay.
We will keep investing in this friendship, continuing at the same time investing in the European Union's unity and strength and we will continue doing it together, all European Union institutions, together with the European Parliament. And I believe this excellent report shows perfectly well the approach that we share in this partnership that has developed so much, sometimes with challenges, sometimes with an easier work to be done, but in any case, always crucial for the rest of the world.